The debate between education vs prosecution regarding drugs rages on in most of the United States, but Oregon legislature has just taken one massive step toward real decriminalization.
Last week, two landmark bills passed the house and senate that would not only reduce sentences for minor drug charges, but also “defelonizes” at least six drugs, including cocaine and MDMA.
According to Herb,
- House Bill 378 reduces drug-related property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. It passed 33-26 in the House and 18-11 in the Senate.
- House Bill 2355 would decriminalize at least six drugs, as long as the person doesn’t have any prior felonies or more than two prior drug convictions. It passed the House 36-23 and the Senate 20-9.
The “six drugs” listed in House Bill 2355 are methadone, oxycodone, heroin, MDMA, cocaine, and methamphetamines.
Unlawful possession of: methadone would be moved from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor; Oxycodone would be moved from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor; heroin would be moved from a Class B felony to a Class A misdemeanor; MDMA would be moved from a Class B felony to a Class A misdemeanor; cocaine would be moved from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor; methamphetamines would be moved from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor; the reclassifications are dependent on the stipulations stated above.
Other steps in the bill include: Up to 40 hits of LSD is no longer a felony; Up to a gram of MDMA is no longer a felony; Up to 14 grams of ‘any mixture containing psilocybin’ also no longer a felony.
Oregon has a history of being on the forefront of drug legislation, as the very first state to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis in 1973. State voters legalized medical marijuana in 1998, and recreational use in 2015.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) agrees with many drug education experts that addiction should be treated as a health problem, and not a criminal one.
“We’ve got to treat people, not put them in prison. It would be like putting them in the state penitentiary for having diabetes. This is a chronic brain disorder and it needs to be treated this way.” – Greenlick
One of the few Republicans who supported both bills in Senate, Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem), also the longest-serving African-American woman in Oregon Senate history, referred to “institutional racism” when faced with criticism from her party.
“There is empirical evidence that there are certain things that follow race. We don’t like to look at the disparity in our prison system. It is institutional racism … We can pretend it doesn’t exist, but it does.” – Winters
In addition to lessening of criminal penalties, HB 2355 also aims to cut back on racial profiling by police. Police would be required to “collect data on race and other demographic information during law enforcement stops,” according to the Criminal Justice Commission.
Both bills now head to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown for her signature.